Philadelphia fire that left 12 dead highlights affordable housing issues in US, public housing authority CEO says

Jeremiah spoke during a press conference Thursday in which he confirmed that the lease indicated that there were 20 people, six in Unit A and 14 in Unit B, between the two apartment units subdivided into the row of houses, a even though firefighters said Wednesday that 26 people lived in the two units.

In 2011, three people moved to Unit A and six to Unit B. In the four-bedroom unit B, the family grew exponentially between 2011 and 2021, with at least eight children added to the home, Jeremiah said.

Jeremiah described the family in Unit B as a multigenerational family consisting of a grandmother, her three daughters, and her sons. The family wanted to stay together and the PHA has no occupancy limits.

“Our policies and procedures do not evict people because they have children,” Jeremiah said. “We are not eliminating them because their families are growing.”

When Jeremiah was asked by a reporter why the PHA did not move some of the residents of any of the apartments to another unit, the executive director responded that there was no indication that the family wanted to do that.

“It’s a question, perhaps, that resonates particularly with the black and brown communities,” Jeremiah said, adding that he himself grew up in a similar unit with 16 people.

The fire on Wednesday morning devastated residents in the Fairmount area as many looked at the burning building in horror. Bill Richards, who said he has lived on the block for 24 years, told CNN affiliate WPVI that before he knew of the fire, he heard a woman scream, “Oh my God! Oh my God! ” Then he heard fire trucks and got out.

“This is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city’s history – the loss of so many people in such a tragic way,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday morning. “Losing so many children is just devastating … Keep these babies in your prayers.”

Jeremiah said he spoke to one of the residents who was in the burned-out unit.

“My heart breaks for her and her family,” she said, breaking into tears.

Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy told reporters during a press conference Thursday that the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia branch of ATF were assisting with the investigation. Neither the PHA nor the fire department commented on the alleged cause of the fire.

“It’s a very traumatic scene, it’s a very complex investigation,” said Deputy Fire Marshal Dennis Merrigan of the Philadelphia Fire Marshal’s Office. “It’s something that would challenge us if we had to do it on our own.”

Matthew Varisco, ATF special agent in charge, said no expense will be spared in the investigation.

Resources to be deployed, Merrigan said, include laser scanners.

“It’s like 3D cameras. Unlike taking hundreds and hundreds of still images, we’re going to scan the entire room, that way it’s almost like virtual reality. We can take that scene later, go back and look at the computer and look at it with extreme. detail, “he said.

PHA units were legally divided in the 1950s

The Philadelphia Housing Authority is a municipal agency that rents homes to low-income people.

The fire took place in a row house that had been legally subdivided into two apartments since the 1950s and has had no violations, according to a spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Licensing and Inspections.

The building, according to records, is estimated to have been built in 1920.

Jeremiah said the PHA prided itself on investing in its infrastructure, despite being a cash-strapped agency.

“Conditions in our nation’s public housing are deteriorating, in some cases abysmal,” he said. “You look anywhere in this country, from New York to Los Angeles, from Seattle to Florida, and you name the city, the condition of the nation’s public housing is just a disgusting state.”

As conditions continue to decline, he said, families are waiting.

“They can’t wait any longer. It has become a matter of life and death for too many families,” Jeremiah said.

PHA Replaced Smoke Detectors in 2019 and 2020, Official Says

Firefighters responded to the flames around 6:40 am Wednesday and found “intense fire” in the kitchen area across from the second floor. officials said. There was “nothing to stop the movement of the fire,” Murphy said, the fire commissioner said.

Murphy initially told reporters that there were four smoke detectors in the building, “and none of them worked.”

Murphy later indicated that Philadelphia Housing Authority records show that at least six battery-operated smoke detectors had been installed there from 2019 to 2020.

However, Dinesh Indala, the PHA’s senior executive vice president of operations, said the agency had different information about the detectors.

The Philadelphia Fire Department works the scene of a deadly fire at a row house in Philadelphia on January 5, 2022.

Unit A of the apartment had seven smoke detectors and three carbon monoxide detectors on its last inspection, Indala said Thursday. Unit B had six working smoke detectors and three working carbon monoxide detectors since its last inspection in May 2021, Indala said.

Two batteries and two smoke detectors were replaced in 2021, Indala said. The smoke detectors were also replaced in unit B in an inspection in September 2019, according to Indala.

“The last time we did our inspection, the smoke detectors were actually working,” said Jeremiah, executive director of the PHA. “If the fire marshal determined, as a result of this fire, that they were, in fact, not working or that they were, in fact, not working, it would be that they were tampered with or the batteries were somehow removed. Do not go to the units and remove the batteries. ”

Defective smoke detectors are treated as emergencies and replaced within 24 hours if requested, Indala said, and the authority conducts inspections annually.

“Every time we come in for an inspection, as is clear from the last one, we had to replace two batteries, replace the smoke detectors. And these are 10-year-old smoke detectors, so that’s something that we came up with quite a bit of. frequency on our properties. “Indala said.

Residents describe escaping by escaping the flames

Qaadira Purifoy said her family suffered an unimaginable loss. Two of his sisters and four of his nieces and nephews died in the fire, he told CNN affiliate KYW-TV.

“Losing sisters, I never thought this would happen,” Purifoy said. “Sisters, nieces and nephews”.

Debra Jackson’s sister was able to escape from the first floor of the home with three of her children, she told KYW-TV.

People react near the scene of a deadly fire in a row house, Wednesday, Jan.5, 2022, in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia.

“Two of her children were burned, she probably just inhaled smoke. But thank God they are alive,” Jackson said. “My heart goes out to the family that lost their entire family.”

The Philadelphia school district said Wednesday it was working with City Council Speaker Darrell Clarke to establish a fund to help affected families.

Some of the children who died were city school students, the district said, without specifying how many. The district said it has also made counseling and support services available to grieving students.

Neighbors and others, some sobbing, gathered outside the burned-out townhouse as firefighters and police worked on the scene Wednesday morning, CNN affiliate WPVI reported.

“It’s very disturbing,” Richards, who also lives on the block, told WPVI. “I just can’t get involved in it.”

Richards described the area as “a very family-friendly neighborhood.”

“We will help each other get through the pain,” he said.

CNN’s Kelly McCleary, Caroll Alvarado, Laura Dolan, Mark Morales, and Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.


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